Police have arrested 20-year-old Todd David Burpee for the Oct. 30 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 17-year-old Gunn High School student, police announced at a press conference today. Burpee graduated from Palo Alto High School in 2006. Burpee has been charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and two counts of sexual assault, Palo Alto Police Chief Lynne Johnson said.
More information and video from the press conference will be posted shortly.
"This arrest was the result of tremendous community cooperation and thorough 'old-fashioned' police work on the part of Palo Alto Police and their surrounding agencies," Detective Brian Philip said in a brief, no-details announcement about the arrest sent out at 10:55 a.m. (View the press release)
Minutes before the press conference was set to begin, TV cameras and reporters were clustered around 41-year-old Fred Burgener, the motorist who rescued the girl at North Fair Oaks Avenue shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Burgener said he saw the girl running down the street while he was en route to his mother-in-law's home a few blocks away. He asked her if she needed help and she got in the car. He said she was bleeding from the mouth, crying, gasping for air and had a black eye.
"I first thought she was being chased. It was her emotional state that concerned me," he said. "She kept saying 'go faster,'" he added.
School officials are waiting for more information to send an e-mail update to community members, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
He was relieved to find out a suspect was in custody, he said.
"As a parent and as a principal and as a community member, congratulations and thanks to the police department, if they've got the right person," he said.
Contrary to initial police reports that the girl was walking along Arastradero Road when attacked from behind, the girl was actually locking up her bicycle in the rear of the building where she lives, in the 500 block of Arastradero Road, at about 3:10 p.m. Tuesday, according to Ryan.
The assailant grabbed her from behind, pushed her to the ground and slammed her head into the concrete as least two times, Ryan said Thursday. The girl may have been knocked unconscious part of that time, Ryan said.
Initial reports said she was walking on in the 500 block of Arastradero when she was attacked, prompting Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likens to issue a warning to students to not walk home alone but to do so in groups.
After the girl was pushed to the ground and beaten, her abductor forced her to a car, drove to an unknown location and sexually assaulted her, police reported. About an hour later, she was able to escape from the car while it was stopped in traffic in the 500 block of North Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale when the girl jumped out of the car and started running and screaming for help. A passing motorist helped her as her abductor drove off.
"She saw an opportunity," Ryan said.
The girl remained hospitalized Thursday with facial lacerations. Ryan said a plastic surgeon was called in to consult but there are apparently no fractures.
"It was an hour or more of hell" for the girl, Ryan said Tuesday night in the initial report of the abduction.
Police in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale worked through the night Tuesday and fanned out Wednesday afternoon looking for witnesses both on Arastradero Road in Palo Alto and on North Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale, especially looking for information about the car.
The Palo Alto Unified School District sent all schools information about the incident using the Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) e-news system, Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said. School administrators urged students to be aware and take precautions.
Police on Wednesday handed out flyers to passing motorists in the area of Arastradero and El Camino.
"One always knows about these things but when it hits you on the doorstep it's quite devastating," Likens said.